Tainted

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Chapter 12

Jake had told Isobel he had grown up around the grimy estate where they found the first, failed sacrificial site. From what Isobel could see his current neighbourhood wasn’t much higher up in the world. Most of the cars in the street looked battered and old; one had a wing mirror hanging off by its wire. Crisp packets and beer cans lay about and not all the residents were cleaning up after their dogs as evidenced by the intermittent piles of excrement. Flies buzzed around the foul smelling deposits in the heat, making Isobel press a hand to her nose to block the putrid stench.

The terraced house, whose path Ramona was leading them up, was flanked on one side by an overgrown garden, containing a half demolished car that had clearly been ransacked for parts and on the other by a house that had been boarded up. Probably a long time ago. The yellowed curtains were drawn over the dirty windows as if the inhabitants were asleep.

There was a sense of desolation to the houses, an almost uniform pallor to the pale, lifeless concrete, as if the houses themselves had given up hope.

Dead, untended plants and withered flowers wilted in the sun baked garden and Isobel hoped Jake had sense enough to visit a florists rather than handing her a bunch of these drab, half dead things. Squalor hung in the air like an unhappy ghost and Isobel was suddenly very grateful for her own small, but cosy seaside flat. Granted her building was cheap and grotty but it was still nicer than this.

“Here we are,” Ramona said, pausing outside the front door. “This is Jake’s.”

“Jesus” Isobel said, looking around. “It’s grim, isn’t it?”

“It’s not the nicest part of town,” Ramona agreed. “A lot of these people have been forgotten or ignored. It’s hard to escape the poverty trap once you hit bottom.”

“I guess.” Isobel sighed and put her hands on her hips. “Do you think he’s in?”

“Only one way to find out.” Ramona took a step forward and rapped her knuckles hard on the door.

The door swung quietly inwards, showing nothing but gaping shadows. Both women exchanged a look.

“That shouldn’t happen,” Isobel observed.

“No.” Ramona craned her head to see round the opening, “It shouldn’t.” She stepped forward, over the threshold and into Jake’s home.

“What are you doing?” Isobel protested.

“You want to find him or not?” Ramona said sharply.

“Yeah, but I wasn’t going to be break into his house!”

“It’s not breaking in if the doors open,” Ramona told her and disappeared inside.

Isobel sighed and hesitantly followed Ramona’s lead.

Inside the house was dim, the curtains drawn against the sun, allowing only a minimal amount of daylight to slip through. The living room to their right was gloomy and stuffy. With no windows open and the curtains drawn the room was thick with heat, the fetid air rank with the smell of decaying food and old sweat. Pizza boxes, beer cans, scraps of paper and clothes lay strewn chaotically around the room, only adding to the disused, squalid atmosphere of the place.

“Nice,” Ramona commented.

“Yeah,” Isobel came in behind her. “The door jamb was left off the latch, probably by accident. It wouldn’t lock if you pulled it to without a key.”

“Shame,” Ramona mused.

“Why?”

“I can’t tell if there’s been a struggle here or if this is just how he lives.” She moved further into the room, Isobel trailing after her. As Ramona moved further toward the kitchen at the back, Isobel crossed the living room, investigating the other side.

“You think he’s here?” She asked, eyes roving over the messy room.

“I don’t know.” Ramona had a quick look in the small kitchen and came back in, “Jake!” she shouted, “Jake are you here?” There was no response. “Could be asleep like you said,” she suggested.

“Ho-ly shit,” Isobel breathed, looking at a framed certificate on the wall.

“What?” Ramona moved closer.

“Jake has a degree,” Isobel smiled. “He never mentioned it. A first class honours degree in Computer Engineering.” She blinked and smiled. “Wow. He did say he was a tech head. Wonder why he never mentioned it.”

“Maybe he’s ashamed he never did anything with it?” Ramona ventured.

“No” Isobel was certain, “No, he wouldn’t be ashamed, not Jake. Anyway if that was the case, why hang it on the wall?”

“To punish himself?”

“Again, not really Jake’s style. Maybe he lost his job? He has been unemployed for ages.”

“Maybe,” Ramona turned. “Let’s look upstairs.”

The upstairs was even stuffier than downstairs and divided into two bedrooms, an airing cupboard and a bathroom so dirty it made them both cringe.

“I’ve smelt the stink coming out of Hell,” Ramona grimaced, covering her nose, “And that plughole isn’t much better.”

Isobel laughed, nervous, but also a little excited; she was in Jake’s house! “Which do you think is Jake’s room?” she asked, looking both ways on the tiny landing.

“I don’t know,” Ramona said. Her admission made Isobel feel a little better; if Ramona didn’t know where Jake’s bedroom was she probably hadn’t slept with him.

Isobel decided on the larger front room first. She opened the door and was greeted by a cavalcade of showgirl posters; scantily clad beauties in only their underwear and undignified poses. One featured a wet brunette in the sand with her rear end raised in the air, giving the camera a come hither look over her shoulder. It was so ridiculous Isobel almost laughed. Almost. Again clothes lay all over the place. A tobacco tin decorated with a picture of a green leaf lay on the bedside table alongside a lighter. Isobel sniffed, the faintest tang of marijuana perfumed the air.

“Jake has a housemate,” she said over her shoulder.

Ramona looked round the room. “I hope you’re right.”

“Well, it’s either a housemate or a split personality.” Isobel gestured at the garish posters, “Jake wouldn’t have this shit on his wall.”

“We’ll see.” Ramona crossed the hall and opened the door to the opposite room. “Wow!”

“What?” Isobel stepped around Ramona as the angel gazed in awe around the room. “Oh my God!”

The room was covered in blood.

Great streaks of gore plastered the walls, burying the posters of old movies and rock stars. Crimson puddles stained the floor and bed, the mattress bowing as blood soaked into the fabric.

“Oh God!” Isobel said again, as they gingerly entered the room. Her roving eyes noticed blood dripping from a table edge; the scene couldn’t be old. “How long ago?” she asked Ramona, staring around in shock.

Ramona shook her head, “Long enough.”

“It hasn’t congealed,” Isobel nodded at the table. It was littered with tools and computer parts, now saturated with blood.

“This much blood won’t,” Ramona told her. “Not for a while.”

Isobel spotted a shirt by her feet, a black and white checked number that had recently lain on her own floor. Bending, she scooped up the blood-spattered garment and held it to her chest, hugging it as if it were Jake himself. This wasn’t quite how she’d imagined her first time in his room.

“Oh God, Jake!” She turned terrified eyes to Ramona. “They killed Jake!”

“We don’t know that,” she said calmly, moving forwards, examining the scene. “Whoever this was, they weren’t sacrificed. No pentagram.”

Isobel clapped a hand over her mouth, swallowing her cries as she began to shake. She clutched Jake’s shirt tighter to her breast, fighting panic. Tears began forming in her eyes and she hated how weak she was. She was tougher than this, dammit!

Ramona knelt by the glistening pool on the floor.

“What are you doing?” Isobel asked. This girl was so weird.

“Communing.”

“What the fuck?”

“I might be able to find out what happened, if the soul left an echo.”

“A what?”

“An echo, some residual consciousness…” she trailed off as she noticed something on the floor.

“What is that?” Isobel asked, as Ramona held the bloody strip up to the light.

“Skin,” she answered grimly. She looked around the room, “God, they’re everywhere.”

Isobel followed Ramona’s eyes. Blood spotted pieces of skin were scattered all over the room, stuck to the walls amongst seeping trails of gore.

“We didn’t see it at first because of the carpet,” Ramona explained. “And the blood.”

“It was sort of distracting.” Even to herself, Isobel’s voice sounded distant with shock. Seeing the stranger’s blood left under the bridge was one thing, but this was Jake’s bedroom. It could be Jake smeared across these walls!

She exhaled and looked to Ramona, still kneeling by the puddle of gore. “Can you find out if this is Jake?” she asked, nervously.

“I can try,” Ramona told her. She closed her eyes, inhaled and blew the breath slowly out, centring herself. She reached out a hand, placing it palm down in the cold puddle of blood and opened her mind to the dead.

She felt herself slammed onto the bed, hands pinning her down, restraining her wrists and ankles. Scabbed arms reached for her, hands cold as the grave touching her stomach. Somewhere over her head a finger tore free and she screamed, though the voice wasn’t her own – it was a man’s. A woman’s face leaned over as she writhed in agony, a dripping finger held in her hand. Slowly, as if it were, foreplay, the woman put the finger and her mouth and bit down, the digit breaking with a sickening crunch. She began to chew.

“Where’s your friend?” A clear male voice asked.

“What?” she shrieked in that strange male voice. “What friend?”

“Jake,” the interrogator’s voice said. “Where is he?”

“I… I don’t know!” She felt fingers tighten around her big toe. “I don’t know!”

The fingers slowly began to pull. Hands forced her head up, brutal fingers kept her eyes open, forcing her to watch. Her toe snapped free of its fleshy moorings with a crunch of bone, blood spilling over the bed and the monster’s hand.

He just licked the blood as if it were honey.

Hot breath covered her hand. Looking round she saw teeth locked over the remaining fingers, down to the palm. She struggled, hollering in pain and fear.

“Where is he?” The interrogator repeated.

“I don’t know! The pub maybe!? I don’t…”

The teeth tightened.

“The Black Swallow!” she cried. “The Black Swallow, he’s always there!”

“The Black Swallow.”

“Yes!” she screamed. “Please!”

“The other works there,” the interrogator mused. “Are they connected?”

“What other? What are you… Please, just let me go. Please!”

“The woman.”

“What woman!? Jake has no…” Her words were cut off as the mouth bit down, teeth slicing through her fingers. She roared in pain, feeling blood course from the stumps. Dimly, she heard the woman chewing.

“I don’t know what you’re…” she screamed again as her knee cap was torn off. Through the agony she watched the man tearing her skin off the bone with his teeth.

The interrogator nodded.

Claws sliced down, through her stomach, piercing the organs inside. Tearing out a length of intestine they threw her to the floor. She stared up, screaming as their faces filled her vision, arms reaching down to her, snatching at her limbs, her face. She felt her leg pull free of its joint, her skin stretched and ripped. Hands reached into her ruptured belly, pulling things free. Everything was gone but the pain! All she could do was scream… until scaly fingers crawled into her mouth and ripped out her tongue…

Ramona, took her hand out of the pool with a jolt. She was shaking and wide eyed with horror. Her breathing was ragged and she needed a moment to compose herself. She didn’t dare close her eyes.

“Are you okay?” she heard Isobel ask. “Ramona?”

“Yeah.” She stood a little unsteadily and blew out a shaky breath before turning to Isobel. “I fucking hate demons.”

“Was it Jake?” Isobel asked, still clearly anxious.

“No,” Ramona told her. “It wasn’t.”

“Thank God.” Isobel visibly relaxed, tension sliding from her shoulders.

“He knew him though. Probably his housemate, poor soul.”

“Why poor soul?” Isobel asked, “Ramona, what did you see?”

Ramona shook her head and looked around. “They tortured him, ripped him apart and started eating him while he was still alive.” She didn’t meet Isobel’s eyes. “I felt it, Isobel, the fear, the helplessness… I…” she trailed off. When she looked at Isobel her eyes were wet. “I fucking hate demons.”

* * *

“So what exactly did you do back there?” Isobel asked when they were outside and headed back into town.

After her experience Ramona hadn’t wanted to stay in the house. Besides she was eager to pick up the trail of the demon who had escaped the previous day.

She turned and just looked at Isobel.

“Well?”

“I can channel the dead,” she said.

“You can what?” Isobel was surprised. “That’s… nifty.”

“Not always.” Her jaw was still set in the grim expression she’d worn since leaving Jake’s room.

“So how does it work?”

Ramona sighed.

“You want me to work with you, I need some answers.”

Ramona sighed again. “That’s fair, I guess.” She turned to Isobel, “Remember what I said when we met? About the victim’s soul?”

“You said it spoke to you.”

“Sort of.” Ramona moistened her lips, preparing her expose. “It only works with the recently dead. Sometimes they show me things, about their lives, about the way they died. Other times, like today, I reach out.”

“And you… communicate?”

“Sometimes. Most times I see or feel snatches of things, a fleeting glimpse of a lost life. Other times I channel the deceased’s memories.”

“And that’s what happened today.”

“Yes.” Ramona looked upset again for a moment, but it quickly passed. “Blood or bodies can act as a conduit, they often retain residual parts of a soul that’s moved on. I can use those echoes to access their memories, but it’s not just visuals, it’s full on.”

“So you experienced whatever that guy…?” Isobel blinked, remembering the carnage. Just looking at it had been bad enough, Ramona had been treated to the full show. “God.”

The pair walked in contemplative silence, each occupied with her own sombre thoughts. She was with an angel, Isobel reflected, who could channel the dead and demons were after her and Jake because their blood might stop the apocalypse.

It was too fucking weird.

After a minute Isobel cleared her throat and asked: “So it’s like a regular thing for you? Channelling the dead?”

“Not that regular,” Ramona replied. “It’s not really what we do.”

“I suppose you normally help old ladies across the road?” Isobel said sarcastically.

Ramona smiled a brilliant, radiant beam. “Sometimes.” She kept smiling.

Isobel shook her head, “Who are you?”

“You want my life story?” Ramona asked.

“Not a full biography, no.” Isobel said, “But an explanation would be nice.”

“Like what?” Ramona began walking faster, although striding might have been a more appropriate term.

“Well,” Isobel tried to match the long legged angel’s pace. “Have you always been an angel? I mean were you born that way?”

“No,” Ramona said.

“What were you before?”

“Human, like you.”

“How did you become an angel?”

“I was chosen; we all were.”

“By who?”

She looked at Isobel and smiled lazily, “Who do you think?”

“God?”

Ramona nodded.

“God chose you to be an angel?”

“He thought I’d be suitable to help protect the Earth and its inhabitants, to safeguard his creations.”

“Jesus.” Isobel shook her head, “The guys more fucking twisted than I thought.”

Ramona laughed. “I’m not just a healer and protector Isobel,” she said with a smile, “I’m a warrior.”

“So being an angel isn’t all clouds and harps then?”

Ramona laughed again, “No. Where would the fun be in that?”

Isobel just looked at her for a moment, not sure what to say. She was becoming increasingly certain that the woman was mad. “But there are angels like that?” she asked, thinking aloud, “You mentioned them before.”

“Court angels,” Ramona confirmed.

“Yeah,” Isobel said. “Them. What do they do?”

“Sit around in Heaven playing harps mostly,” Ramona sounded a bit scornful. She looked at Isobel, “They have it easy is all. We’re down here risking our lives, our souls, for the greater good and they do very little to help.”

“Sort of like bad workplace management?” Isobel commented.

“A little, yes. It’s a bit more complicated than that though. The basic role of a court angel is to be on hand to run errands for God and otherwise maintain the serenity of the place.” Ramona smiled, “They hate it when I show up covered in blood.”

“Freaks.”

Ramona’s smile just widened, “I’m not there often.”

“So what’s Heaven like?” Isobel asked keeping her tone casual, despite the weight of the question.

“It’s alright,” Ramona said, “Peaceful. Good for a break.”

“Nice for a holiday but you wouldn’t want to live there?” Isobel was still sceptical but Ramona didn’t seem to notice.

“No,” Ramona said. “No, I could live there quite happily.” She looked at Isobel, a small smile on her lips. “That’s kind of the point of the place.”

“Is it very different?” Isobel asked, fascinated as they crossed a road, heading back towards the centre of town.

“Imagine the most beautiful parts of Earth.” Ramona said, thoughtfully, describing the scene, “Venice, the Galapagos Islands, the Cornish coast. Now take away the litter, the poverty and the violence. Now imagine you don’t have to work ever again. No pressure, no troubles... all you have to do is relax and enjoy eternity.”

“Sounds nice,” Isobel said wistfully. “Is everyone reunited with their loved ones?”

“If they want to be.”

“What if there’s a couple where one person wants to be reunited, but the other doesn’t?” Isobel asked.

“That’s complicated.” Ramona turned to her, “So much of happiness depends on the people involved. Most people are happy there.”

“If Jake died,” Isobel’s voice shook just voicing her deepest fear, but she persevered regardless. “If he was dead would we be reunited… if we weren’t tainted?”

“That would depend on you two.” Ramona gave her a smile, “I think you would be. I think Jake would like that.”

“Sounds,” she smiled and uttered a small laugh. “Sounds perfect.”

“It is,” Ramona said. “Depending on the individual. I never did cope well with sitting around doing nothing. I like to get down here, get my hands dirty. Remember where I came from.” She looked down at the floor, her pace slowing. “My mother died when I was young, seven in fact. The plague took her away.”

“The plague?” Isobel asked. “As in...”

“As in the Great Plague of London, 1665-66.” Ramona smiled, but it was strained around the edges. “It was terrible in our part of the city. All the houses had red crosses painted on the doors, including ours. My mother was buried in a mass grave along with my brothers and sisters and a lot of other victims. They set pyres ablaze to cleanse the air of the disease but it was too late for us. After that...” she looked away, remembering. When she eventually turned back she said: “I died when I was twenty-six. I survived the plague only to be executed for using witchcraft. They tortured me for days until I confessed, then I was hung in a public square.”

“Jesus.”

“Yeah,” she gave a small laugh. “Funny, the executioners believed they were doing God’s work. Considering where I ended up maybe they were right.”

“Days?” Isobel’s voice was breathy with shock. “Days? Of… torture?”

Ramona gave her a tight smile, “I’m a stubborn bitch.” The look in her eyes said the horror still haunted her and Isobel wondered how she bore watching other people’s torment. Clearly it stirred up memories.

“Were you a witch?” Isobel asked.

Ramona gave her a deadpan look.

“What?” Isobel protested, “You expect me to believe in angels and demons and a God that isn’t too bothered about us, but witchcraft is going too far?”

“No,” Ramona said, “It just doesn’t exist. Not all myths are true.”

“Right,” Isobel shook her head at the weirdness of it all. “This is so fucked up.”

“You said that before.”

Her eyes flicked to the angel, “It bears repeating. A lot.” She was quiet for a while, lost in her thoughts, watching the growing crowd around them, until Ramona spoke.

“We need to pick up the pace.” They were already going pretty quick.

“What? Why?”

“Because it’s about to kick off,” Ramona told her. Her speed increased and Isobel moved quicker to keep pace with her.

“What’s about to kick off?” Isobel asked.

“There’s a fight,” Ramona explained. “The others have got a demon cornered, but they’re in trouble.” She flipped her head round as she began to jog, “They need us.”

“Us?” But Ramona had her head down and was running flat out, darting agilely round people in her path.

Isobel cursed and raced after her, not wanting, for some reason, to be left behind.

A minute later they rounded a corner leading up an alley. Cries and an almighty crash sounded from round the next bend. It was a miracle the crowd on the street hadn’t heard it. An industrial waste bin came flying out, smashing into the wall, dust, brick and rubbish flew everywhere as the lid leapt up and crashed back down. Ramona never broke pace. She tore round the corner, deeper into the alley. Isobel was hot on her heels, hurtling into the fray after the angel. The scene that greeted her made her stop in her tracks, right in the middle of the alley.

At the far end of the short cul de sac a slim young man with spiked dark hair was fighting three others; two men and a red haired woman. They looked bloodied and scraped up. The darker, Mediterranean looking guy had a series of long slashes in his olive arm. The pale woman bore similar gouges, her blood dripping steadily to the concrete. It reminded Isobel of her dreams, of her own blood dripping onto the steaming asphalt.

Their opponent was covered in blood, swathes of gore surrounded his mouth and jaw, dripping blood soaked through his blue shirt and jeans. He looked like a zombie.

He’s not trying to blend in.

The other guy, a muscular blonde, was picking himself up off the floor as Ramona ran to join the fight. Like the others she somehow had her glowing sword in hand. Having followed her up the alley, Isobel knew there was nowhere on Ramona’s skimpy dress she could possibly hide a sword.

Where the hell does she keep that thing? Isobel wondered watching Ramona come to a halt beside the redhead.

“What did I miss?” Ramona said by way of greeting.

“Demon,” the redhead told her. “Raised last night.”

“Another one?”

“Yep.”

She examined their adversary, “Scrawny fucker isn’t he?” A smile of anticipation lit her face.

“He’s tough,” the redhead warned.

“Aren’t they all,” Ramona smiled wider. “Got a secret weapon,” she called to the demon.

He blinked at her, “Yeah?”

His voice sounded all too human to Isobel at the back.

“Oh yeah,” Ramona declared enthusiastically. “But that can wait, for now.” She nodded to the others. They charged into the demon as one.

Fists flew, swords swung and Isobel watched as one by one the angels were thrown aside like ragdolls, crashing into walls. The blonde landed at her feet, unmoving.

Ramona crashed into the second story of a building and fell back to the floor, landing on her hands and tips of her toes. She drew herself up quickly, flicking her hair back over her shoulder and shaking off brick dust. “That all you got motherfucker!” she shouted, challenging the demon. A grin split her face and Isobel wondered again if Ramona was entirely stable.

The demon let out a guttural howl of rage at her.

“Bring it bitch,” she taunted and charged the thing again.

Isobel watched as Ramona landed blow after blow on the demons head. It smacked her backhanded sending her skidding along the ground, stopping near Isobel.

“Damn,” Ramona said getting to her feet. She examined the tattered remains of the side of her skirt, “I like this dress.” She looked at Isobel and shrugged. “Good thing I like the grunge look.”

Isobel was still staring at the carnage, trying to force her dumbfounded brain to make sense of what was happening. She could feel the black veins crawling down her arm, responding to the presence of the demon; her blood excited by the nearness of its kin. The demon hadn’t seemed to notice her yet. After hurling Ramona across the alley, its attention had turned to the redhead. Isobel watched in horror as it batted away her sword and lifted her aloft, slamming her back down into the floor hard enough to raise dust and leave a crater. Isobel heard a whimper of fear pass her lips.

“Does that look human to you?” Ramona asked her.

Isobel, wide eyed, shook her head.

Ramona’s hand extended, holding out the knife Isobel had used yesterday. “You know what to do.”

Isobel just shook her head again. The demon was still slamming the unconscious girl into the floor over and over again. Her bones must be powder by now, she thought. The idea froze her in place. Dimly she realised she was quaking with fear.

“Isobel!”

She blinked and looked back to Ramona, it took a lot of willpower to look at her and ignore the sounds coming from over the way.

“Snap the fuck out of it and help us!” Ramona pushed the knife’s handle hard into Isobel’s hand. The blade was already out. “You know what to do,” she repeated. She turned to her blonde friend on the floor, who was pushing himself to his knees. “Elliot,” she extended her hand to him. He took it and she pulled him to his feet, steadying him with a hand on his arm. “You good?”

He shook his head, “No.”

“Neither’s Lisa anymore.” She looked to where the demon was beating the ground with the angel’s limp body.

He stopped. The redhead wasn’t moving.

“No!” Elliot shouted.

The demon turned. “Why couldn’t you just leave me alone!” he roared at them.

“Because your evil, dickhead.” Ramona shouted back.

The demon roared and charged inhumanly fast at them. Ramona was about to strike when Isobel stepped in front, bloody hand outstretched, practically in the demon’s face. It stopped rigid in its tracks.

“Back the fuck up,” Isobel hissed in its face.

The demon took a couple of steps back.

“This enough room for you?” she asked Ramona, keeping her eyes on the demon. He looked so human. The gore covering his face and soaking his clothes wasn’t normal but besides that he looked just like everyone else. She shivered at the thought. He had kind eyes. She’d have never thought him dangerous if she hadn’t just seen him beat a woman to death.

“Yes,” Ramona said. “Drop your arm when I say, I don’t want to accidently lop it off.”

“Reassuring.”

“You ready?”

“No.” Her energy was already waning. She could see the fine black veins, slithering down her arm, almost as if they were reaching out to the monster inches from the end of them.

“Drop it.”

Isobel dropped her arm. The second it was low enough, before it was even at her side, Ramona swung her sword out in a long glittering arc. The demon saw it at the last second, but it was too fast for him to move. The blade sliced clean through his neck, the momentum sending his head tumbling backwards. Blood from the severed carotid arteries gushed out, spraying Isobel and Ramona with a thick, wet shower of gore. Isobel let out a girly scream and jumped back out of the path of the arterial spray, too late, her face and clothes were already covered in it. Ramona just stood there, letting the bloodstream wash over her.

The body slumped to the ground inches from Ramona’s feet. She looked at Isobel, a blood curdling smile on her gore streaked face. Her enemy’s blood dripped off her chin as she turned triumphant eyes to Isobel.

“Believe me now?” she asked.

Isobel just gaped. Her body felt cold and disconnected from her. She shivered, goose bumps breaking out on her skin. She was going into shock.

“It’s not finished yet,” Ramona said. She reversed her sword so the tip was pointing at the floor. Isobel had a horrible feeling she knew what Ramona was about to do.

“Oh no,” she moaned.

“Oh yes.” Ramona replied, a predatory glint in her eye. “It’s not strictly necessary but I like to make sure.” She plunged her sword downwards, using her whole body to strengthen the thrust. The sword plunged into the demon’s chest, a thick jet of dark, viscous heart blood rocketing into the air, landing on the floor and Ramona.

She actually likes this, Isobel thought covering her mouth.

Putting her weight into it Ramona twisted her sword once. The body made a thick, wet meaty sound as her blade sliced the organ inside. She twisted again, further mincing the heart.

Isobel felt bile rise in her throat and closed her eyes to stop from vomiting. When she opened them, she saw Ramona had her hand in the demon’s chest. She ripped out the heart and squeezed, crushing it in her hand, crimson blood leaked out, running up her arm in thick rivulets before dripping onto the floor.

It was too much, Isobel turned and fled into the corner by an upturned bin, fell to her knees and threw up. She could hear Ramona crushing the remains of the heart beneath her boot heel and retched again. She retched until she was dry heaving and tears stung her eyes. Through the tears she saw that the black veins in her arm had disappeared now the demon was dead.

“You know you don’t have to take the heart.” She heard a male voice, she thought it was Elliot, say. He sounded amused.

“I like to be thorough,” Ramona replied.

Elliot just laughed. “Well he’s definitely dead now.”

“I fucking hope so.” Ramona sighed. “Bastard got Lisa though.”

“Yeah.”

A hand touched Isobel’s shoulder. She would have jumped, but she didn’t have it in her.

“You okay?” Ramona’s voice said next to her.

Isobel just shook her head.

“You need a minute?”

Isobel nodded. Ramona’s footsteps walked away from her. She could hear a low conversation going on amongst the angels but not what was being said. Finally Ramona’s footsteps came back. Isobel turned to look and found she couldn’t stop her eyes glimpsing the decapitated, dissected corpse in the middle of the alley. She closed her eyes, forcing herself not to throw up again. Her already sore throat was dry and her head pounded from vomiting. Ramona knelt in front of her, thankfully blocking her view of the body.

“You want to go home?”

At first Isobel thought she meant her old home at her mother’s flat and vigorously shook her head. Then she realised Ramona meant her own flat, with the sea view. “Yes,” she croaked in a small, fragile voice. “Yes please.” Tears were beginning to roll down her face. Ramona put an arm around her shoulders and helped her to her feet.

“Let’s get you home.” She smiled through the mask of gore at Isobel, “Quite a morning eh?”

Isobel didn’t reply.


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